Why Do I Need Forgiveness? Beware of the Wrong Answers
What is the ultimate aim of the cross for me in the forgiveness of my sins? It’s one of the most foundational questions in the world, and the question gets answered in a dozen different ways, by some good answers, some poor answers, and some false answers, as well. And John Piper helps parse the answers in a 2015 sermon to the Co-Mission church planting network in Canterbury, England. Here’s how he explained it.
Do you remember Romans 1:18 where it says, in unrighteousness we suppress the truth of God’s glory and we embrace other things? Well, that word “unrighteous” is the word used in 1 Peter 3:18: Christ suffered once, “the righteous for the unrighteous.”
So, as God looks down and sees hearts that prefer other things to him, he doesn’t just get angry, he says: I am going to fix that. And the first thing I am going to do is put my Son as perfectly righteous, who never came within one width of exchanging my glory for anything else, I am going to put my Son out there to take their place and bear that anger that I feel so strongly towards their idolatry. And I put him in that place, and I am going to pour out my wrath on him.
“For Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
So, I will read it again: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the [truth-suppressing, God-exchanging] unrighteous,” and then here is the key phrase, “that he might bring us to God.” That verse is paramount in my understanding of the gospel for this reason. I know that there are precious truths that we preach in the gospel and we terminate on them when they, in fact, are not the ultimate termination.
What I mean is this:
Christ died that my sins might be forgiven. That is glorious. Christ died that I might be justified or counted perfectly righteous in the presence of the holy God. That is glorious — and that is not the ultimate goal of the cross. Christ died in order that his wrath might be removed. That is glorious — and that is not the ultimate goal of the gospel. Christ died that I might not go to hell. That is really good news — and that is not the ultimate goal of the gospel. This verse expresses the ultimate goal of the gospel. I will read it again: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). All those other things — forgiveness, justification, removal of wrath, escape from hell — are all means to getting to him.
I often ask people: Why would you want to be forgiven? We’re all singing and waving our hands and, yes: forgiven, forgiven, forgiven! And I will say: Yes, yes, yes. Why? There are a lot of bad answers to that question, a lot of God-dishonoring answers.
If I offend my wife in the morning and then at breakfast there is ice in the air, her back is to me. She is at the sink. This relationship is broken. My fault. What needs to happen? I need to ask for forgiveness. I need to repent, and she needs to give me forgiveness. Why? Why do I want forgiveness from her?
Here is a bad answer: If I don’t get forgiveness, she might not make supper for me tonight. A lot of people answer God that way. Here is another bad answer: I hate having a guilty conscience all day. I want to get this fixed now, because I don’t like having a guilty conscience all day. That is a bad answer. It is true. It just has nothing to do with her value. Or God’s value. Right? Christianity is good for my psychological well-being. Thank you very much, God. Take a vacation. I have got what I want: psychological well-being. You get it? You see what is going on?
If we don’t get to God through forgiveness, through justification, through propitiation, through escape from hell, through removal of wrath, if we don’t get to God and love him and treasure him and own him and say, He is everything to us, it hasn’t happened. Salvation hasn’t happened. That is what it is about. It is about him. It is not about me getting forgiven, me getting out of hell, me getting free from wrath. It is about me getting to God. I am made for God. I am made to know him and love him and be with him in a fellowship that is satisfying to my soul and, because it is satisfying to my soul, it is glorifying to his name. That is the end of the story. Everything else is means.
I love this verse. “Christ also suffered once for sins,” — my sins. My sins of exchanging God for other things. He died so that I could get to him and finally discover what my treasure is and my value in him is. That is the first thing that has to happen to restore God to the center is that Christ must die for our unrighteous exchange. And he did. And that is the heart of the gospel. But it is not the goal of the gospel. The goal of the gospel is God.